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Fighting multiple fights: The life of a flight surgeon

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – U.S. Air Force Capt. Bret Lindstrom, a 335th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., listens to a patient’s heartbeat, May 4, 2017, during NORTHERN EDGE 2017 (NE17), at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE17 is Alaska’s premier joint training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures as well as enhance interoperability among the services. Thousands of participants from all the services, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units are involved. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ashley Nicole Taylor)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – U.S. Air Force Capt. Bret Lindstrom, a 335th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., listens to a patient’s heartbeat, May 4, 2017, during NORTHERN EDGE 2017 (NE17), at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE17 is Alaska’s premier joint training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures as well as enhance interoperability among the services. Thousands of participants from all the services, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units are involved. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ashley Nicole Taylor)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – U.S. Air Force Capt. Bret Lindstrom, a 335th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., poses for a photo May 4, 2017, during NORTHERN EDGE 2017 (NE17), at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE17 is Alaska’s premier joint training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures as well as enhance interoperability among the services. Thousands of participants from all the services, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units are involved. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ashley Nicole Taylor)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – U.S. Air Force Capt. Bret Lindstrom, a 335th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., poses for a photo May 4, 2017, during NORTHERN EDGE 2017 (NE17), at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE17 is Alaska’s premier joint training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures as well as enhance interoperability among the services. Thousands of participants from all the services, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units are involved. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ashley Nicole Taylor)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – U.S. Air Force Capt. Bret Lindstrom, a 335th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., listens to a patient’s heartbeat, May 4, 2017, during NORTHERN EDGE 2017 (NE17), at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE17 is Alaska’s premier joint training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures as well as enhance interoperability among the services. Thousands of participants from all the services, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units are involved. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ashley Nicole Taylor)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – U.S. Air Force Capt. Bret Lindstrom, a 335th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., listens to a patient’s heartbeat, May 4, 2017, during NORTHERN EDGE 2017 (NE17), at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE17 is Alaska’s premier joint training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures as well as enhance interoperability among the services. Thousands of participants from all the services, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units are involved. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ashley Nicole Taylor)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

From fighting off sickness on the ground, to fighting an enemy in the air, a flight surgeon holds a set of skills crucial to any unit.

 

When he isn’t seeing patients, Capt. Brett Lindstrom, a 335th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, is gearing up as a weapons systems operator to accompany a pilot in the back of an F-15E Strike Eagle dual-role fighter aircraft.

 

“I am required to have four hours of flying every month, which gives me a better idea of what the aircrew goes through,” said Lindstrom. “Aside from it being fun, flying builds rapport with my squadron because I know more of what they go through verses a doctor who doesn’t get that opportunity on a regular basis.”

 

At home station, Lindstrom acts as a primary care manager for members of a few squadrons and their dependents, but being halfway across the world and operating out of a backpack changes his capabilities.  

 

“Being here on TDY, I consider myself a concierge medical service because we have a minimally-capable clinic and assist with sick-call,” said Lindstrom. “I can’t do anything evasive like IV’s, but I can take care of colds, sore muscles and perform pre-flight examinations for incentive flyers.”

 

Lindstrom said aircrew can become apprehensive to go see a doctor and with the odd working hours, getting to a medical training facility can be tough to fit into their schedule.

 

When aircrew are able to see a physician who is already embedded in the squadron, it addresses many of these concerns.   

 

“The rigors and demands placed on our bodies are more than people realize, but the great thing about having a flight doctor is that they understand our stressors,” said Lt. Col. Isaac Bell, the 335th FS director of operations. “Having a doctor readily available and working directly with us, keeps us healthier because we don’t have to go through a lot of steps to see a medical provider.” 

 

With both jobs being independently demanding, flight surgeons must remain calm during high-stress situations to ensure the mission is never faltered.

 

“Being both aircrew and a physician are very similar because I’m constantly learning new things and I cross-utilize my skills often,” said Lindstrom. “Both jobs hold a large weight of responsibility and there isn’t room for error, so I have to hold myself to a high standard to ensure I can keep the mission effective.”